My son and I arrive back at our home as early dusk settles into the trees: the wind is whirling through winter-thinned trees and white lights spackle through the leaves of the yards of our neighbors. I’ve been here only a year and a half, but I’m already converted to the enviro-conscious lifestyle of the Pacific Northwest: I carry a re-usable bag filled with ripe tomatoes-on-the-vine, fresh garlic, yellow onions, and whole pepper: tonight I’m making roasted tomato soup. I’m wearing yoga pants and a faux-fur lined hoodie, a warm cap pulled low over my hair. My son is three: suddenly he can undo his own seatbelt, open the car door and leap out joyfully, terrifyingly.
“Unky!” he yells, sprinting in the direction of my 29-year-old brother, who is draping lights across a rhododendron bush in the house we have bought together: a joint venture born of being in places we Never Expected We’d Be, at this time in our lives.
“Hey bud!” says my brother, stopping to embrace my blond whirlwind in a hug,”Hey, I’m putting lights up in the tree. You wanna help?”
My three-year-old son stands back and stares, feeding mini-lights to my younger brother, his hands encased in wooly gloves and a baseball hat pulled low over his eyes. He suddenly looks like he’s 10.
His Dad lives here now, but this weekend he’s back visiting friends in the City where we used to live. In the meantime, my son is surrounded in so much love, he doesn’t notice. He’s got my Mom, his Nanny, his playmate and perpetual cheerleader. He’s got my Dad, who’s lost all his Gruff and Intimidation exclusively for his only grandchild. My son is also best pals with my brother, who is the consummate cool Dude and exactly the kind of Unky every little boy wants: a snowboarding, dirt-biking, warm-hearted, role model. And - if Nolan had his way, he’s steal my brother’s girlfriend out from under his nose: he loves hanging out with Alex and her long blonde hair and green-blue eyes, her sisterly hand and her always accommodating vibe.
I stood outside my car, clutching my bag of produce and French bread, watching my brother and my son interact.
I spent so many months aching over the loss of Nolan’s father in our lives. I realize: it wasn’t him, so much, it was the thought of “Family” that I mourned. A mom, a dad, a child, in one house.
But those ingredients don’t make a family. It’s love, and devotion, and sacrifice, and blood - and a lot of compassion.
My family is different from what I envisioned, but it’s every bit as good. With white likes twinkling and People Who Love Him abounding at every turn, I am confident that my little boy is lacking nothing, this Christmas. This Christmas, there is no guilt. This piecemeal, loving family, is every bit the real thing.